Amanda Seales On Sexual Health

Women get a lot of mixed messages when it comes to sexuality. On one hand, shows like Broad City, Insecure, Girls, and more depict frank portrayals of the joys, pitfalls, and complications of women’s sexuality, and encourage women to be open about their needs and desires. On the other hand, women are literally getting killed for turning down men’s advances. It’s no wonder we have conflicting feelings about being seen as sexually confident.

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The shame and stigma surrounding women’s sexuality actually affects the choices they make around having safe sex. According to Trojan’s new Trust Yourself survey, 97 percent of women think it’s socially acceptable for men to carry condoms, while just 79 percent think it’s socially acceptable for women to do so. Women who said they were uncomfortable having the conversation about condoms said it was because they were embarrassed (54 percent), and that body image affects their sexual health decisions (70 percent).

At a panel hosted by Trojan last night in downtown New York City, Dr. Logan Levkoff sat down with Insecure actress Amanda Seales, model and designer Nadia Aboulhosn, and safe sex advocate Alba Alvarado to talk about women’s sexual health, confidence, and how we can empower women to listen to themselves when they make sexual choices. Beforehand, sat down with Seales to talk about the issues, and why men sometimes need to sit down and shut up.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you get involved in Trojan’s #TrustYourself campaign?

Trojan came to me because they wanted somebody who was outspoken, and who could bring some humor and levity to a conversation that easily becomes very heavy. Because it should—it’s a heavy conversation, don’t get it twisted. But sometimes humor is able to help ease strong messages into small minds. So that’s something I’ve made the mandate of my humor and my brand, and anywhere that I can do that in a place that’s going to bring information and education to people, I want to be a part of that. So when Trojan said they were doing this, and that it was about women and owning their sexual health, I was like, count me in.

Was there a specific experience in your life that made you realize women’s sexual confidence was an issue, or made you passionate about it?

Any woman who’s ever had sex has dealt with this. Literally I don’t know any example. If you haven’t dealt with this, it’s like, kudos! Lucky for you! I came up in hip-hop as well, which often times the lyrics can be misogynistic, and can be very objectifying of women, and you can take on those images and those lyrics to yourself and it does create insecurities. It does create questions about your own sexual confidence. Because I think a lot of women put all the weight in the hands of men in terms of being the aggressor, in terms of taking care of contraception. And we are changing as women. A lot of things are going to change along with that, and part of that is our responsibility and having accountability for our choices, and not having to feel like we have to be at the behest of men’s choices. Even moves in the sexual space. I know a lot of women who have literally slept with somebody just because they were like, ‘I just didn’t want to make them feel bad.’

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That’s such a common experience! You think, ‘Well, it’d be awkward to leave now.’

Right! And it’s because we live in a patriarchal society that’s said we have to lean toward letting men lead in that situation. Your sexual confidence isn’t just about having the confidence to say, ‘Hey, have you been tested?’ or ‘Yeah, I’m not sleeping with you without a condom.’ It’s also about having the confidence to say, ‘Hey, this isn’t really doing it for me. I’m not a hole. I’m a human.’

So much of that, too, is that it’s dangerous to reject men, and women are afraid of the consequences.

We’re more concerned with preserving men’s egos oftentimes than protecting our own bodies. Which is what patriarchy is. Our bodies are not as important, far too often. So what Trojan is doing is encouraging women to rise up and be strong and solid in the protection of their bodies. Love is a beautiful thing, but love doesn’t cure gonorrhea.

Amanda Seales at XOXO Trojan panel

Makena Granger

Condoms have been around and in discreet packages for a very long time. Why do you think sexually active women still feel shy about carrying a condom with them?

Because carrying around a condom says you’re waiting for sex and you’re a slut. Which we all know is false. But it’s still attached to the brainwashing. This country, before we were revolutionaries we were puritans. There’s always a root, things don’t just come out of nowhere, and bad habits are really hard to break. The first British settlers, outside of the tobacco folks, say women are not sexual, only used for reproductive purposes. That continues. You see shows like Handmaid’s Tale and see how scary that would be. You look at other countries where that’s happening. And even if it’s not as pervasive in America, it’s still invasive in our confidence. There’s still this underlying message that says sex is dirty, that only certain women are sexually free, and that if you were married you wouldn’t be doing this.

I’ve even heard from women who grew up learning that, even if they were married, they shouldn’t act like they enjoy sex with their husband too much.

Right, because you’re a whore if you like it too much….

Race also plays into this a lot. The way white women are sexualized and allowed to be sexually free is much different than for Black women and other women of color. How does that come into the conversation, or is it more about women in general?

It’s never just about women in general. That’s just the reality. The intersectionality is so part of the conversation, and often times it gets left out. We’re not on the same playing field, and even if we are on the same playing field, we don’t have the same padding. Some of us are just getting body shots. Don’t leave us out!

Listen, Black women were brought to this country as slaves, and were made to be at the use of making new slaves or bodies to serve their masters’ sexual appetites. That’s it. So that was the overlying objectification of Black women for a very long time. It’s just another tool of oppression. Tools of oppression are not factual. At the end of the day, Black women were considered ‘exotic’ and fetishized, and there’s all these things that are attached to Black womanhood that have nothing to do with Black women. When you’ve brought people to a place and used them for only one purpose, that turns into all you are. I am somebody who has always been very vocal about sex. Not even because it was a mission, but that living your truth and being honest was the best thing to do. I’m on Insecure and there’s a lot of sexual freedom on the show because it’s a part of life. And if we don’t normalize [women having sex], we will continue to, by omission, support the stigma.

So much of what keeps women from being confident about their sexuality are these patriarchal power structures you’ve talked about. What do you think men and people in power can do to help women own their sexuality?

Shut up when we’re talking! And speak up when you hear folks talking incorrectly. Or just speak up in general in support of this. I’m always appreciative of men who are like, ‘Yeah, that’s stupid,’ and it requires men to get over themselves. That’s a hard thing for a lot of guys to do, because empowering women somehow becomes disempowering to men, which is not the case. It’s just creating more power. Empowerment is simply based on education for a lot of folks. You don’t have to be that educated to understand this education, which is the simple fact that sex is a basic human right that everyone has access to, and should not be judged for if you’re doing it responsibly and honestly.

Why Is Female Sexual Dysfunction Ignored?

I was given a stack of at-home physical therapy techniques to try, and a list of what can only be described as medicinal sex toys to use in that venture. If that didn’t get me where I needed to be, off to therapy I would go to see if I could spank my inner moppet and deal with any psychological issues that might be complicating things.

From there, if I was in need, there was a light dose of Xanax to help relax my body when sex was attempted, and if I needed to tag in extra help, the vagina therapists at the hospital were standing by to treat the condition. And it’s exactly what it sounds like. If you pulled a hamstring or tore your rotator cuff, you’d use a physical therapist to get your muscles back into fighting shape.

So, that. Except with vaginas.

This all came to a very unfortunate head when the stress and guilt and frustration built up on a PTA-mom play date. Driving back from whatever the newest Twilight movie in theaters was, I sort of half-screamed at this car full of women I’d just met, “DID YOU GUYS KNOW THERE ARE PHYSICAL THERAPISTS FOR VAGINAS?”

Driving back from whatever the newest Twilight movie in theaters was, I sort of half-screamed at this car full of women I’d just met, “DID YOU GUYS KNOW THERE ARE PHYSICAL THERAPISTS FOR VAGINAS?”

Imagine my surprise when yeah, four of them totally knew there were vagina therapists because they had either been to see them, had dealt with vaginismus or a similar disorder in the past, or had known someone who had.

While I suppose I should have been delighted to find other people dealing with fritzing junk, what I did instead was continue screaming. “OKAY BUT WHY IS NO ONE TALKING ABOUT THIS!?”

When I asked my doctor why this wasn’t common knowledge, his frustration was immediate and palpable. He explained that even in the medical profession, any sort of female sexual disorders were wildly under-discussed, perpetually misunderstood, and generally chalked up to women being uptight and “needing to relax.” I got the distinct impression that he was even referring to other members of his own practice.

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He suggested that this is one more—huge—way our system is based upon a male model of health, and women’s issues are relegated to the side. A trend that exists in our current paradigm everywhere from how we deal with heart disease to any complaint of physical pain. And we know how our current administration and GOP would like to view pregnancy as a pre-existing condition. Hell, the way things are headed, I’m waiting for being in possession of a vagina to be considered a preexisting condition.

In general, we’re more willing to acknowledge male sexual health, while speaking about women’s bodies remains taboo. We regularly see ads for erectile dysfunction medication during prime time television, or “male enhancement” vitamin supplements available at your local health store. But outside of birth control (which everyone is happy to sell even though few insurances are willing to properly cover it), there’s barely a peep about vaginismus or vulvodynia or vaginitis or anything related to sexual dysfunction or sexual pleasure for anyone sans penis.

My now years-long quest for information and support led me to even sit down and write a novel. About vaginas.

There is still little consensus about female sexual dysfunction. There are those who think no such thing exists. There are others that think physical disorders such as vaginismus are real, but for the most part could be solved with a glass of wine and a husband doing the dishes to take some pressure off a wife. (Eyeroll.)

Some argue that women are merely trying to steal the Viagra spotlight of menfolk with their real struggles. Some believe this is all a play by Big Pharma to try and trick women into thinking their vaginas aren’t working so they can get pumped full of Vagagra. (Patent-pending.)

I’ve even seen folks say trying to push the medical community to focus on female sexual dysfunctions in the same way we look at male dysfunctions (i.e. in the form of a pill or scientific fix) is antifeminist, and not cognizant enough of our differences, and should therefore be stopped. Head scratching yet?

While I don’t have any official answers to shut down all those voices, I can say that after years of dealing with my own bits on parade, and many a fruitless Google search, and one or two outraged rants geared at pig-headed doctors, there are a few things I know for certain.

Treatment, does in fact, exist. For me, it took about a year of at-home therapy and work with a therapist on finding ways to let the little things go, and forgive my body for well, being human. And now, while this is something that’s just a part of my life, I’ve managed to find a way to not let my rebelling vagina call all the shots

If your sex life isn’t going the way you wish it would, you are 100 percent allowed to talk to a doctor about that. One who will listen to you and not dismiss things as “normal” because that word is subjective and ridiculous in most connotations.

If you are feeling pain during sex, I don’t care how many women can say, “Pssh, I went through that!” It doesn’t make it your fate forever and always, amen. Sure, a glass of wine might actually be a thing that helps you out. But it may also require more than that, and you deserve medical professionals and resources that will treat your vagina as importantly as any penis that should wander their way.

But more than anything, you are entitled to never, ever be told that a physical concern isn’t worth considering with care and empathy.

Because while hot baths are super, and I highly recommend them should they be your jam, I can safely say that after 36 years on this planet, they are not a conclusive treatment for OCD, vaginismus, arthritis, autoimmune diseases, migraines, or hypoglycemia. (All conditions I have been told to let Calgon take away.)

For my next trick, I would like to see detailed studies on how many men get the “hot bath” prescription for whatever ails them.

'Sexism' in sexual assault research, but this time men are the target

Sexism is alive and well, but this time men are the target. A new study debunks a long-standing theory that sexual assault isn’t as emotionally traumatizing for men as it is for women and that it doesn’t result in similar emotional impacts, especially depression. Men make up about 38 percent of sexual assault and rape incidents reported, and those in the military are particularly vulnerable and less likely to report an assault.

Long-term sexual intimidation may be widespread in primate societies — ScienceDaily

After observing the mating habits of chacma baboons living in the wild over a four-year period, researchers have found that males of the species often use long-term sexual intimidation to control their mates. The findings reported in Current Biology on July 6 suggest that this mating strategy has a long history in primates, including humans, and may be widespread across social mammals — especially when males of a species are typically larger than females.

“This study adds to growing evidence that males use coercive tactics to constrain female mating decisions in promiscuous primates, thereby questioning the extent of sexual freedom left for females in such societies and suggesting that sexual intimidation has a long evolutionary history in primates — a taxonomic group that of course includes humans,” says Alice Baniel at the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, France.

Baniel says she and her PhD supervisors, Guy Cowlishaw from the Zoological Society of London, UK, and Elise Huchard at CNRS in Montpellier, France, were curious about male violence and sexual intimidation in the baboons living in Namibia in part because no one had ever witnessed a male baboon forcing a female to mate with him. They wondered if males might be coercing females in less obvious ways.

“When I was in the field and observing the baboons, I often noticed that males were directing unprovoked attacks or chases toward females in estrus,” Baniel says. “They also maintained close proximity and formed a strong social bond with one particular cycling female, from the beginning of their cycle until the end.”

She also noticed that males in those relationships were often aggressive toward their female partners. She wondered whether that aggressive behavior was paying off for the males by winning them more success in mating with those females over the long term.

To explore those dynamics, the researchers collected data on sex and aggression across four years in two large baboon groups. Their studies showed that fertile females suffered more aggression from males than pregnant and lactating females did. In fact, male aggression was a major source of injury for fertile females. Males who were more aggressive toward a certain female also had a better chance to mate with her when she was close to ovulation.

Males didn’t appear to harass females into mating with them or punish them soon afterward, they report. Rather, males appeared to take the long view. They would attack and chase particular females repeatedly in the weeks preceding their ovulation, apparently to increase their chances of monopolizing sexual access to them when the time was right. That behavior, the researchers say, “can be seen as a form of long-term sexual intimidation.”

The researchers note that sexual intimidation was already known to occur in chimpanzee societies. The new study shows that the strategy occurs in other primate societies, strengthening the case for an evolutionary origin of human sexual intimidation.

“Because sexual intimidation — where aggression and matings are not clustered in time — is discreet, it may easily go unnoticed,” Baniel says. “It may therefore be more common than previously appreciated in mammalian societies, and constrain female sexuality even in some species where they seem to enjoy relative freedom.”

Baniel and colleagues will continue studying their baboons to explore variation in levels of male aggression toward their female mates.

“My feeling was that some males were more aggressive with females than others and that some females were ‘happier’ than others with their mate-guarding male,” she says. “I would like to understand if several mating strategies could coexist among males, i.e., being chosen by females versus intimidating them.”

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Ray Spencer Falsely Accused of Rape and Sexual Abuse

Krause and Davidson denied any wrongdoing in the investigation. But after two and a half days of deliberation, the jury decided that the defendants had conspired to violate Ray’s rights, delivering a verdict of $9 million. Seven months later, the trial judge overturned the verdict for a narrow reason related to the jury instructions.

The family waited. Nearly three years went by as the decision was appealed.

In May 2017, Ray had back surgery. As he was recovering, he received a call from his lawyers: the court had reinstated the jury verdict. He was woozy from pain medication, but he delivered the news to Katie with a joke straight out of her 1980s childhood: “This is Publishers Clearing House,” he said. “You’ve won!” Katie wrote on Facebook, “Is this for real? Congratulations Dad on this monumental journey! You deserve this victory and your justice! I love you!” Matt wrote, “Time to pay up you assholes!”

Offline, the celebration was more muted. It is unclear how long it will take before the money arrives. Katie notes that she recanted nearly a decade ago. Every part of the process has moved slowly. “Somebody’s going to have to put a check in my hand, I think, before I really believe it,” Ray says.

Even with the money, Katie knows there will be a lingering resentment towards the investigators. “Money doesn’t give you twenty years of your life back,” she says. “If you don’t have someone stand up and say I f-ed up, and I apologize,’ and own it, you’re going to have some frustration always. It’s an exciting victory. But a complicated one.”

Bitterness toward the investigators had been something to bond over, and a place to turn to avoid their most contentious debate: DeAnne. She did not protest as her children grew close to her former husband, but she also never acknowledged his innocence. Matt and DeAnne are “civil,” Matt says, but barely.

Katie, who was always able to live with conflicting narratives, has managed to stay close to both parents. “I can’t live my mom’s truth. She is a bitter ex-wife, and as much as I love her, I’m not going to live her truth anymore,” she said at the trial. Still, she is protective of her mother, believing she earnestly thought her children were being hurt and tried to protect them. This makes it difficult to hear Ray and Matt complain about DeAnne. “At the end of the day it was harder for me than them,” she says.

Once or twice a year, Ray flies from Los Angeles to Sacramento to visit Katie and Matt, and he plans to move closer to them when the lawsuit money comes through. Matt and Katie wish he’d stop waiting. They sometimes sound like parents who chide their children for not visiting home often enough, but with a sharper edge; Katie, who now works as a dialysis technician and is raising her stepdaughter and two of her own children with Mike, worries that time is precious when so much has already disappeared.

Ray worked security after he left prison, but he stopped during the trial and has not returned. He self-published a book about his experiences and still hopes to use the psychology PhD he earned in prison. Matt’s transformation has stuck; he’s happily partnered, with a young son and daughter, and when they came along he decided to be a stay-at-home dad, in part because he knew what it was like to grow up without a father around.

Matt’s account has the feel of a conversion narrative: he was lost, but admitting his primal, early sin—lying about his father—absolved him of the rest.

During one of these visits a year ago, they lounged around Katie’s kitchen island, listening to the squeals of Katie and Matt’s children from the other room. Ray rolled through his memories of being a police officer. The mood was jovial until Ray started talking about how much he missed them while in prison; he kept photos of them hidden in his cell, taking them out late at night and trying to imagine how their faces had changed. He began to cry, and his children tried to cheer him up. Then the grandchildren raced through the kitchen, and Ray broke into a smile. “I’ve been trying to make as many memories as I can,” he said, “as long as I’ve got left.”

One of his favorite stories, which he tells more often than any of the prison yarns, is of the first time he arrived at Katie’s house. He was so afraid of Katie’s reaction, he says, but when the door opened, his first sight was his daughter holding his sixteen-month-old granddaughter, Mia. She was a mirror image of Katie the last time he’d seen her, more than two decades earlier. “It was just like all the years had been washed away,” Ray says, “and there was Katie.”

With a little trick of the mind, he could make it feel like he’d never left.

Ray Spencer wearing his class ring after obtaining a PhD in psychology while in prison.

Photography by Mark Mahaney.